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“From Bahaus To Our House”

Tom Wolfe is in the house

by Keith Purtell

Keith at DeviantArt

Tom Wolfe
Tom Wolfe by MoSchle-own work, CC BY 3.0

If you have ever looked across a city skyline and wondered why it was filled with ugly glass boxes, or wondered why big corporations pay big money for big, boring buildings, “From Bahaus To Our House” answers the question. Hosted by author Tom Wolfe, this amusement park ride of a book is a hilarious study of modern architecture and its most prominent players.

Wolfe traces the path of important concepts that crossed the Atlantic and made their presence known in America. He outlines the brilliant origins of America’s own architectural concepts, and how they were almost snuffed out by the tendency of snooty corporate customers to abandon American talent in favor of fashionable European designers.

Wolfe describes the architecture business as a comedy of errors in which the mainstream architect carries his glass-box blueprints into high-powered board rooms, where powerful executives are so overwhelmed by the dog-and-pony show that they don’t dare question what they see. According to Wolfe, they typically cower before the arrogant architect, who brandishes his Bahaus red pillar like a saber. Rejecting the concept is not among the client’s options.

About Wright's career

Frank Lloyd Wright was profoundly influenced by Nature throughout his career. This gave rise to a design philosophy that harmonized the built environment with the natural world.

Wright's fascination can be traced to his early years in Wisconsin, where he developed a deep connection with the natural landscape. Growing up in the rolling hills and expansive prairies, he absorbed the patterns, textures, and organic forms. This early exposure to Nature became the foundation for his groundbreaking approach.

Robie House, Chicago. Photographer: James Caulfield/Frank Lloyd Wright Trust
Robie House, Chicago. Photographer: James Caulfield/Frank Lloyd Wright Trust ( https://flwright.org/ )

The Prairie School, a movement that emerged in the early 20th century, played a pivotal role in shaping Wright's philosophy. Embracing horizontal lines and open spaces inspired by the Midwestern prairie, Wright sought to break away from prevalent designs. His Prairie-style homes, exemplified by the Robie House in Chicago, showcase the integration of Nature. Characterized by horizontal planes, overhanging eaves, and open floor plans, these residences aimed to create a transition between indoor and outdoor spaces.

One of the most notable examples is Fallingwater, completed in 1937. Nestled in the woodlands of Pennsylvania, it exemplifies Wright's belief in organic architecture. The house ingeniously hovers over a waterfall, integrating the watery elements into its design. The cantilevered terraces extend outward, creating a sense of unity with the flowing stream below. Through use of local stone and materials, Fallingwater emerges organically from its setting, embodying a commitment to harmony with Nature.

Wright's engagement with Nature extended beyond residential projects to include designs for public and commercial spaces. The Guggenheim Museum in New York City stands as a testament to his evolving approach. Completed in 1959, this spiral-shaped museum challenges conventional notions of museum architecture. The continuous ramp that spirals upward celebrates the organic flow of Nature, welcoming visitors as they ascend through the exhibits. The Guggenheim exemplifies Wright's commitment to pushing the boundaries of architectural norms while maintaining a connection to the natural world.

Prairie Du Sac in Wisconsin by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash
Prairie Du Sac in Wisconsin by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash

As Wright's career progressed, his exploration of organic structures continued to evolve. The Usonian homes, a series of affordable and efficient residences designed to reflect American values, further showcased his commitment. These homes featured flat roofs, open floor plans, and a deliberate connection to the surrounding landscape.

Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture was not only a product of his early years in the Wisconsin landscape but also a departure from the architectural norms of his time.

His designs seamlessly integrated with Nature, creating a legacy that continues to inspire architects and enthusiasts alike. Wright's innovative spirit and commitment to harmony between architecture and Nature have left an indelible mark on the history of design.

Back to Wolfe's book

photo of Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright

Although the book covers a wide variety of architectural thought, the only really admirable character is eccentric American genius Frank Lloyd Wright. While architects all around him wanted to build structures based on their own interpretations of traditional designs, Wright searched for design derived from Nature. He usually succeeded.

Knowing what we do about Wright’s deficiencies as a person (he abandoned his first wife and their children), it is even more remarkable to witness the graceful serenity of one of his beautiful houses, nestled among trees, with a gentle stream gurgling past. Perhaps this is Wright’s redeeming social quality.

I doubt that Wright and Wolfe ever met, but “... Bahaus To Our House” is the intellectual intersection of two like minds.

Favorite moment: The wickedly funny story of Wright’s encounter with infamous machine-worshipper Walter Gropius.

Find this book at Amazon.com (new window).

Meiji Mura museum preserves the main lobby of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Imperial Hotel
Meiji Mura museum in Japan preserves main lobby of Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel
(Bariston, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)